Environmental Review Toolkit

Section 4(f) Tutorial



The purpose of the draft Section 4(f) evaluation is to analyze the alternatives that avoid Section 4(f) property and to determine if they are feasible and prudent. The document should reference relevant information that is included in the project’s NEPA document or provide a description of the project, purpose and need, the Section 4(f) property, coordination with the officials with jurisdiction and mitigation. The draft evaluation does not identify the selected alternative or make feasible and prudent determinations; that discussion is reserved for the final Section 4(f) evaluation.

The information provided in a draft Section 4(f) evaluation document is generally organized in the following manner:


The introduction section should include a very brief description and overview of the Section 4(f) requirements. The following is provided as an example:

The Section 4(f) regulation requires that the proposed transportation use of any land from a significant publicly owned public park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or public or private historic site that is on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), The Nation's official list of historic properties worthy of preservation. be avoided, if avoidance is feasible and prudent, before any U.S. DOT funding or approvals can be granted. Additionally, a full evaluation of measures to minimize harm to that property must be made and documented.

Description of Proposed Action

For a separate Section 4(f) evaluation, describe the proposed project alternatives, and explain the purpose and need for the project. For an evaluation submitted with an EIS or EA, briefly summarize and reference the section of the NEPA document that contains additional detail about the project area and proposed alternatives.

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Description of Section 4(f) Properties

This section of the draft Section 4(f) evaluation should describe each Section 4(f) property and resource that would be subject to use by any alternative under consideration. Be sure to include the following information:

  • Type of Section 4(f) property: Publicly owned park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, and/or public or private historic site.
  • Ownership of the property: For parks, recreation areas, and wildlife and waterfowl refuges, indicate the public entity that owns and/or is responsible for the management and operation of the facility (city, county, State, Federal). For historic sites, indicate whether the site(s) is public or private and the status of the property’s eligibility for the National Register.
  • Applicable existing clauses affecting the ownership, such as leases, easements, covenants, restrictions, or conditions, including forfeiture.
  • Primary function of the property and, where applicable, available recreational activities including when the facility is open, to whom it is open, and whether any fees are required.
  • Location (e.g., maps, photographs, sketches) and size (indicating the boundaries and acres and/or square feet) of the affected Section 4(f) property.
  • Detailed map(s) or drawing(s) of sufficient scale to identify the relationship of the project alternatives to the Section 4(f) property.
  • Description and location of all existing and planned facilities (e.g., ball diamonds, tennis courts).
  • Access (bicycle, pedestrian, vehicular, and any other modes) and usage (e.g., approximate number of users/visitors) and hours of use.
  • Relationship to other similarly used lands in the vicinity and potential effects a change in the Section 4(f) property may have on these other lands.
  • Characteristics of the Section 4(f) property (flooding issues, terrain conditions, or other features) that either reduce or enhance the value of all or part (and which part(s)) of the property.

proposed alignment alternatives map

Be sure to include maps or drawings such as this one to illustrate the various project alternatives.

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Description of Use and Impacts on the Section 4(f) Property

This section of the Section 4(f) draft evaluation should discuss each alternative's impact on the Section 4(f) property (that is, the amount of land to be used, facilities and functions affected, noise, visual effects, and so forth). If the alternative would require additional temporary impacts during construction, you should discuss those as well. If an alternative uses land from more than one Section 4(f) property, it may be helpful to develop a summary table that compares the various impacts.

Be sure to quantify measurable impacts such as noise and affected functions whenever possible. Impacts such as visual intrusions, which cannot be quantified, should be described.

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Avoidance Alternatives

A Section 4(f) evaluation must demonstrate that avoidance alternatives Avoidance alternatives may include minor alignment shifts, reduced cross-sections, retaining structures, modifications to the project and so forth. to the project under consideration have been evaluated. Specifically, the evaluation must include a discussion that will ultimately support a determination of whether or not an avoidance alternative is feasible and prudent in the final evaluation.

A final determination that no feasible and prudent avoidance alternatives exist is withheld until after the draft evaluation has been circulated to the appropriate agencies and all issues have been appropriately evaluated. The final determination may be made in the final evaluation or in the Record of Decision (ROD) or the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).

This discussion of feasibility and prudence must comply with the regulatory criteria located in the definition of "feasible and prudent avoidance alternative" in 23 CFR 774.17. These criteria specify that an alternative is not feasible if it cannot be built as a matter of sound engineering judgment, and that an alternative is not prudent if on balance it meets the factors spelled out in the previous section.

If it appears that the final evaluation may conclude that there is no avoidance alternative that is feasible and prudent, then the draft evaluation should also provide a least overall harm analysis of the remaining alternatives under consideration. This is done by balancing, or comparing, the alternatives under consideration in terms of the seven factors specified in 23 CFR 774.3(c). FHWA can only approve the alternative that is found to cause the least overall harm after consideration of these factors. The basis for and determination of which alternative results in the least overall harm will be documented in the final Section 4(f) evaluation.

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Minimization and Mitigation of Harm

The draft evaluation should address all possible measures to minimize harm, including a separate discussion of each impact to a Section 4(f) property. For example, if multiple public parks are affected, a separate discussion of each park should be provided, detailing how impacts will be minimized.

For parks, recreation areas, and wildlife and waterfowl refuges, measures to minimize harm may include: design modifications or design goals; replacement of land or facilities of comparable value and function; or monetary compensation to enhance the remaining property or to mitigate the adverse impacts of the project in other ways.

For historic sites, measures to minimize harm normally serve to preserve the historic activities, features, or attributes of the site as agreed to within the Section 106 consultation process.

All mitigation measures require appropriate documentation and coordination between FHWA, the state transportation agency, project sponsor, and the official(s) with jurisdiction, including the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) on tribal lands, or DOI representative in certain situations, when historic sites are involved. In the case of park, recreation, or refuge lands under DOI jurisdiction, the officials with jurisdiction would include a representative of the relevant Federal agency.

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The Coordination section in the draft Section 4(f) Evaluation should discuss the results of coordination with the following parties:

  • the official(s) with jurisdiction over the Section 4(f) property
  • the regional (or local) offices of the DOI
  • the Regional Office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Forest Supervisor of the affected national forest (as appropriate)

Generally, the coordination would have included a discussion of avoidance alternatives, impacts to the property, and mitigation measures. In addition, coordination with the public official with jurisdiction should include, where necessary, a discussion of significance Significant means that in comparing the availability and function of the resource with the recreational, park, and refuge objectives of that community, the resource in question plays an important role in meeting those objectives. and primary use of the property. The coordination section of the evaluation should reflect outcomes of these efforts.

The draft evaluation is typically made available to the officials with jurisdiction, the DOI, and the other appropriate parties listed for coordination and comment for a period of 45 days. If comments are not received within 15 days of the comment deadline, a lack of objection may be assumed and the process may proceed to a Final Evaluation.

If any of these agencies raise issues during coordination, Section 4(f) requires follow-up coordination. While the regulation does not always stipulate that these issues be resolved successfully, reasonable efforts and good-faith attention by decision makers are always called for.